If a judge must choose between a free press and a fair trial, the rights of a defendant must take precedence, a federal judge told jurists Thursday.
Speaking to the Utah Judicial Conference's annual meeting in Ogden, U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins asked jurists, "Do we want a press that is almost free? Do we want a trial which is almost fair? As a judge . . . if there is a genuine question, we have the obligation to stand on the side of fair trial."Also addressing the conference Thursday, Gov. Norm Bangerter congratulated the judiciary for its remarkable progress during the past four years.
Jenkins recently presided over the much-publicized federal trial of members of the Singer-Swapp clan, convicted on bombing and firearm charges.
Judges should take the U.S. Constitution seriously when considering the rights of reporters as well as the rights of an individual accused of a crime to an impartial jury, he said.
"It is not a question of censorship, but of timing. That which is sealed can be unsealed at an appropriate time after the threat to a fair trial has passed," he said.
Fairness can be often be achieved by delaying a trial. "You may have to change the time - let things calm down - allow people to think again, if such waiting could be compatible with the constitutional right to a speedy trial," he said.
Jenkins cautioned news reporters to take their privileges seriously. "It is absolutely imperative that newsmen report fairly, honestly and evenhandedly. The public never knows when they don't do so."
Bangerter, looking back at the problems four years ago that threatened the credibility of courts, praised jurists. Four years ago, Utah's court system was in jeopardy. "Utah now has one of the hardest working, most progressive and efficient court systems in the nation," he said.